Tourism Tuesdays April 17, 2018

Alabama city named 7th best place to live in America, according to U.S. News and World Report
Where to eat and drink in Mobile, Alabama right now
Westin Huntsville completes $7 million renovation
Historic Alabama home sold for $2 million for new hotel
Alabama receives $25 million for Sportsmen and Conservation
Civil rights posters will compete for national “Addy” awards
Brand USA coming to Alabama to video
Alabama, one of the top Travel South states in growth of international visits
“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Alabama city named 7th best place to live in America, according to U.S. News and World Report
From the article by Leada Gore on

Talk about making a debut splash…

In its first year to be included in the list, Huntsville was named the seventh best place to live in America by U.S. News and World Report. Huntsville finished ahead of such cities as Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina and Dallas.

The list evaluates the country’s 125th most-populated metropolitan areas based on factors such as affordability, job prospects and quality of life. The rankings also factored in data from the Census Bureau, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Making its first appearance in the Best Places to Live ranking, Huntsville is the smallest metro area in the top 10,” US News reported. “This northern Alabama metro area is the most affordable place to live out of the 125 largest metro areas in the U.S. and offers a flourishing job market, with many local companies focused on science, technology, engineering and math.”

Two other Alabama cities made the list. Birmingham ranked 95th out of 125 cities; Mobile ranked 122nd.

For the complete article please see

Where to eat and drink in Mobile, Alabama right now
From the article by David Landsel on

Founded in 1702 as the capital of French Louisiana, home to the country’s oldest Mardi Gras celebration, and claiming an enviable waterfront location, Mobile, Alabama could have quite easily been another New Orleans. That didn’t happen, of course—remarkable history aside, never mind the fact that Mobile retains so much of its original charm, Alabama’s least Alabama-like city is often seen as something to merely pass through, on the way to someplace else.

Don’t blame Mobile—it’s not their fault that the city is surrounded by impressive distractions. Just a short drive from town, you have 60 miles of gorgeous Gulf of Mexico coastline, complete with white sand beaches that draw travelers from across the Southeast. The town of Fairhope, perennially rated as one of the most desirable in the South for good reason, is within commuting distance. And who could hope to compete with the likes of New Orleans, two short hours down the road?

Consequently, for many travelers, a visit to Mobile means a stop for lunch. Chances are, this will happen at one of the restaurants dotting the seven-mile Causeway crossing the upper end of Mobile Bay, at an institution like Felix’s Fish Camp, for their famous crab soup, and perhaps the Oysters Felix, baked with garlic, black pepper, parmesan and breadcrumbs. (And butter, of course. Plenty of butter.)

Lately, however, it appears as if the tide might just be turning, for good old Mobile. Drop into town these days, and there’s a new sort of energy, as if things are happening, or are at least about to happen. There have been some terrific developments on the food front, that’s for certain—when the James Beard Foundation announced the nominations for this year’s awards, Mobile was on the list. Specifically, Chef Duane Nutter, whose Southern National took Mobile’s Dauphin Street by storm, not all that long ago, got the tap—the mod-South spot, from a team well known for their work up in Atlanta, is now up for Best New Restaurant.

This is kind of a big deal for Mobile, so used to being passed by, and passed over. Even more exciting: This isn’t just a one-off, but rather an indicator of the evolution within in the local food and drink culture, so thoroughly set in its ways, for so much of the modern era. (No knock on those meaty, massive Gulf oysters, but they’re far from the only food.)

So, in summary: You should go to Mobile. You ought to see about a table at Southern National, for dinner—and then you should stick around for a while, because there’s a whole lot more to like. To get you inspired, here are some of our current favorites.

The Noble South
Rising star Chris Rainosek is chef/owner at this cheerful, community-minded spot that proudly plays up relationships with local farmers and suppliers; this is one of those rare restaurants where they do so much—excellent value plate lunches, ambitious Meatless Mondays, brunches, dinners—but do it all well enough that it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s say dinner, for Gulf shrimp with locally milled grits and (also local) bacon. Followed by lunch, the next day, of course.

Serda Brewing
The only brewery in Mobile with its own brewpub, at least for the moment, and it’s a good one. Far enough away from the drinking dens of Dauphin Street but still within walking distance for those in the know, this just-opened operation, a converted tire shop, vibes more campus than simple tasting room, featuring a generously-sized outdoor beer garden, along with space for up to three food trucks. Brewer Todd Hicks brings years of experience, both in brewing and consulting, to the table; his passion for tradition is evident here—the flagship beer is a lager.

Meat Boss
Barbecue sandwiches—often dripping sauce from all sides—are very much an Alabama thing, and you’ll find one of the best in this part of Alabama at this more recent entry into an already robust barbecue scene. You’ve got options, but there’s a reason why the pulled pork (here, referred to by its Christian name, Boston butt) is first on the list. Then you have your choice of sauces, plus the option to pile all sorts of unorthodox extras on your sandwich—cheese, Jalapeno jelly, you name it, go for it, this isn’t Texas, nobody’s judging. Sides, included in reasonably priced combos, are generous—you can even ask for a smoky Conecuh sausage (an Alabama delicacy), just for fun.

The Haberdasher
Some great drinks—barrel-aged negronis, an intriguing Old Fashioned made with a Barq’s Root Beer reduction, other drinks built around Alabama’s own whiskeys and a smart selection of regional beers will get you in the door at this craft cocktail bar on Dauphin Street; a freewheeling food menu (avocado fries, yes please), plus fun events like free crawfish boils on springtime Sundays, will have you sticking around.

The Cheese Cottage
Having recently opted out of corporate life, Kristi Barber’s second act is this brand new (and cute as a button) spot not far from the downtown core, and the name says it all. It’s a cottage, and there’s cheese. There’s a lot of cheese, actually. Barber’s on a mission, to “prove that cheese doesn’t always come pre-sliced and orange,” and to do that, she’s making some bold choices, including sourcing from some terrific Alabama makers, places like Belle Chevre, Stone Hollow Farmstead and Dayspring Farm. Besides instantly becoming the most interesting cheesemonger in town, there’s also food—stop by for a light lunch, or go all the way with a giant board.

Callaghan’s Irish Social Club
Great neighborhoods deserve great watering holes, and Mobile’s historic Oakleigh Garden District claims one of the best in the South. This vintage blue collar bar, one block from beautiful Washington Square, is a destination not only for ambience and free-flowing drinks, but also for the seriously good live music calendar, and one terrific hamburger, made with ground  Conecuh sausage.

For the complete article please see

Westin Huntsville completes $7 million renovation
From the article by William Thornton on

A year after it began, Westin Huntsville’s $7 million renovation is complete.

North Alabama’s only AAA-rated four diamond hotel saw a complete remodeling of all of its guest rooms, for a full complement of 232 rooms with 22 new deluxe rooms and suites.

But each room, as well as the new features on the ground floor, are designed with a distinctive style that signals comfortable elegance, said Andrew Dorough, general manager.

“This is a world class hotel, where everything is high quality, but it’s not stiff,” he said. “You can set your own rules.”

This is reflected in the rooms themselves. Instead of straight lines, some features in the rooms are slightly off-center. The bed is tilted slightly from the wall, as is the artwork on the walls. The mirror also projects out. It’s a subtle way of letting the guest know that he can be comfortable.

Entering through the front, there are several aspects that immediately catch the eye. There’s the 10-foot wide centerpiece chandelier, with more than 100 hanging pendants. There’s a living plant wall with greenery and flowers which can be switched out, depending on certain corporate guests. It was designed with the age of the Selfie in mind.

A new addition is the Trieste Café, serving Starbucks beverages and baked goods. There’s also a revamped Sage Grille Bar & Restaurant, offering meals all day until 10 p.m. and drinks until midnight. The area can serve up to 130 people, with an intimate drink area combining soft, electric colors and comfortable space.

Westin Huntsville now has an 8,000-square-foot ballroom and meeting space, with conference room and gathering areas elsewhere. The ballroom can accommodate up to 500 for dining, or 850 people for a reception, Dorough said.

Next month will see the opening of Portofino’s Pool Bar & Grill outside. The bar area can accommodate people just visiting for a quick drink after shopping at nearby Bridge Street Town Centre. The seasonal outdoor pool, while remaining for guests, offers a nice accompanying atmosphere.

Westin’s corporate image is crafted with the fit traveler in mind, which is why the hotel’s fitness studio has New Balance equipment. Guests can even check out their own pair of workout shoes.

The hotel is pet friendly, which is why guests can have their own Westin Heavenly Pillowtop bed, and so can the family dog. Presidential suites have two beds, two baths and a full kitchen. There was also an upgrade on the hotel’s high speed Internet.

Westin Huntsville is the only Westin property in the world which also has the company’s extended stay brand, The Element, under the same roof. The Element, which opened last year, occupies floors 7 through 11. Guests for it enter through a different elevator, and enjoy a complimentary hot breakfast and an evening happy hour.

Rooms at the Westin start at $129 a day, with the Presidential Suites from $499 and up.

“We looked at what our guests wanted, and there was a lot of investment in small things that can make a big difference,” Dorough said. “There’s an attention to detail that we think pays off for every guest. The feedback we’ve been getting has been overwhelmingly positive.”

For the complete article please see

Historic Alabama home sold for $2 million for new hotel
From the article by Hanno van der Biji in the Birmingham Business Journal:

Plans for a new luxury hotel in Alabama continue to progress.

The Montgomery Water Works and Sanitation Board is selling the historic Murphy House in the city’s downtown area for $2.15 million, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. The board will move into a new building in Interstate Park for $1.5 million and use the rest of the funds for its transition.

Ascent Hospitality hopes to keep the “Murphy House” name for its third Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel in Alabama. The Grand Bohemian in Mountain Brook and The Elyton in Birmingham were the first two hotels to become part of the collection

For the complete article please see

Alabama receives $25 million for Sportsmen and Conservation
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced the receipt of $25,511,600 to support critical state conservation and outdoor recreation projects. The announcement is part of $1.1 billion in annual national funding going to state wildlife agencies from revenues generated by the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration and Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration acts.

Alabama apportionments include $6,151,179 in Sport Fish Restoration funds and $19,360,421 in Wildlife Restoration funds. The funds, which are distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are derived from excise taxes paid by the hunting, shooting, boating and angling industries on firearms, bows, ammunition, fishing tackle, some boat engines, and small engine fuel.

“The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs are the most successful conservation programs in the United States,” said Governor Kay Ivey. “Alabama continues to benefit greatly from our annual apportionment of these funds, and our Conservation Department is a wise steward of these funds.”

According to Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship, the money received from the federal government is a match to the state’s hunting and fishing license revenues. “There is a formula used, but basically, the more licenses we sell, the more Wildlife and Sportfish funding we receive. It’s very important that hunters and anglers purchase a license every year because our department doesn’t receive money from the state’s General Fund. Our work on behalf of the hunters and fishermen is solely funded by license dollars and federal matching funds.”

Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes says hunters and fishermen can be proud of the fact that their purchases help put active management on the ground in Alabama.  “Managing public hunting land and building and maintaining boat ramps and shooting ranges are all projects funded by the allocations we receive from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

Sykes adds that people who don’t hunt or fish also benefit from this funding. “Every citizen in the state receives benefits from the conservation efforts of hunters and fishermen,” he said. “The habitat that we create and manage for deer, turkey and other game species also benefits the species that non-hunters enjoy like bald eagles and bluebirds,” he said.

Alabama’s coastline profits from this funding as well. “These funds help build and maintain public boat access points, provide education to the public about the marine resources in and near Alabama and fund valuable research projects that otherwise may not be possible,” said Alabama Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon. “The return Alabama receives on the investment of these funds is priceless.”

“Alabama sportsmen and women are some of our best conservationists and they contribute billions of dollars toward wildlife conservation and sportsmen access every year through the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts,” said Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “For nearly 80 years, states have been able to fund important conservation initiatives thanks to the more than $20 billion that has generated nationwide. Every time a firearm, fishing pole, hook, bullet, motor boat or boat fuel is sold, part of that cost goes to fund conservation. The best way to increase funding for conservation and sportsmen access is to increase the number of hunters and anglers in our woods and waters. The American conservation model has been replicated all over the world because it works.”

For more information about the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program visit

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit

Civil rights posters will compete for national “Addy” awards
Three civil rights posters that Luckie & Company of Birmingham created for the Alabama Tourism Department will compete at the America Advertising Federation’s national awards in June, Luckie executive Ed Mizzell says.

Birmingham photographer Art Meripol’s images of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the Greensboro Woolworth’s and Little Rock Central High School won gold awards in Atlanta and Charlotte competitions to qualify for the national level in Chicago.

A book that Luckie designed using Meripol’s civil rights photos won the national Silver Addy Award in the book design category in 2015, according to state tourism director Lee Sentell.

Brand USA coming to Alabama to video
The State of Alabama will see several Brand USA crews busy with video projects across the state this month.

One of the production teams will be in the central and southern part of Alabama filming a pilot for a series called “Road Food.” The series is set to air on GoUSA TV a streaming TV network playing worldwide on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire. The crew will be in Mobile on April 20 as part of a foodie road trip sampling great food destinations along the southern USA coast. In Mobile they will showcase the city as the birthplace of Mardi Gras and a wonderful place for seafood.

Most of that Brand USA crew will then travel to Montgomery to shot on the weekend of April 21 as part of a culinary and history feature of the capital city. In Montgomery they will promote the Hank William’s connection, Montgomery’s Civil Rights place in history and the city’s southern food. Taking them on the Montgomery history and Hank tours will be Michele Browder of More Than Tour.

GoUSA TV launched in February of this year to showcase the must-see places, great outdoors, foodie hot spots and road trips in the USA.

A week later another Brand USA crew will focus on north Alabama and will be filming for two Brand USA website videos, one focusing on Alabama as a music destination and the other as an ideal southern road trip. Amon Focus, who has been talent on travel videos promoting Cuba, Berlin and Amsterdam will be talent in the videos. Filming will take place in Muscle Shoals and Blount County on Friday April 27 and in Birmingham on Saturday April 28.

The music feature will include stops at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Gips Place and Avondale Brewery. Additional Alabama music locations will be included in copy posted along side the on-line video.

Brand USA is currently using music as a theme to attract visitors to the USA and has produced America’s Musical Journey film tracing Louis Armstrong’s footsteps across the USA. This should draw more searches on the Brand USA website for music as a tourism experience, which is where the Alabama music video will be posted.

The road trip video will feature clips taken from the music video as well as pervious Brand USA visits to Alabama. Additional scenes in the road trip video being taped during this visit will be the Swann Covered Bridge in Blount County, Vulcan Park in Birmingham and the Welcome to Sweet Home Alabama road sign. The road trip video will be produced as a Sizzle Reel combing video clips to demonstrate the excitement of an Alabama visit. It will not include spoken English to make the video universal for all international markets.

For more information on Brand USA and the Alabama Tourism Department, contact

Alabama, one of the top Travel South states in growth of international visits
The Alabama Tourism Department was part of a multi-state conference call with the firm Tourism Economics when it learned our state was one of the leading Travel South member states in percent of growth of International visitation.

In the call, Geoff Lacher of Tourism Economics presented a graphic showing percentage growth of visits to the Travel South States from International destinations. The graphic showed most Travel South state’s growth exceeded the 4 percent mark, out-performing the total international growth of 2 percent.

Alabama Deputy Director Grey Brennan said, “Alabama’s growth for both total international and overseas visits in 2017 was in the 5 percent to 6 percent range making Alabama one of the top five Travel South member states in percentage growth. This growth rate could not have happened without a lot of hard work from not only our office, but both Travel South and our industry partners,” said Brennan.

The Alabama Tourism Department has a small sales and PR staff of Graham Roderick, Rosemary Judkins, and Brian Jones. They, along with Brennan, attend tradeshows to promote Alabama as a tourist destination.

Aiding in the efforts of the tourism staff are the local DMOs in Alabama, the Travel South USA organization and a team of representatives that includes Andy Facer in the UK, Janin Nachtweh in Germany, Springna Zhoa as China Coordinator, and shared representation in Australia, Brazil, Benelux countries, China, France and Italy.

The conference call last week previewed research to be released in more detail next month.

Travel South USA is the official regional destination marketing organization for the southern United States. The non-profit organization promotes travel to and within its member states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentel is one of the 12 board members of the Travel South organization. Tourism Economics research is commissioned by the Travel South organization for its member states. Travel South’s International showcase will be held this year in Nashville. Registration for the showcase opens May 1 and is expected to be completely sold out.

For more information on Alabama’s international marketing efforts, contact  For more information on Travel South, go to

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